Ugly veg: supermarkets aren’t the biggest food wasters – you are

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Speedkingz/Shutterstock

 

Miriam C. Dobson, University of Sheffield and Jill L. Edmondson, University of Sheffield

“Ugly” or “wonky” veg were blamed for up to 40% of wasted fruit and vegetables in 2013, as produce was discarded for failing to meet retailer appearance standards. About 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide every year and, of this, fruit and vegetables have the highest wastage rates of any food type. But just how much of that is due to “ugly veg” being tossed by farms and supermarkets? The biggest culprit for food waste may be closer to home than we’d like to admit.

“Ugliness” is just one reason among many for why food is wasted at some point from farm to fork – there’s also overproduction, improper storage and disease. But the problem of “wonky veg” caught the public’s attention.

Continue reading Ugly veg: supermarkets aren’t the biggest food wasters – you are

Marmot Dark Mountains 2019 – Race Report

It’s 10pm. We have been listening to the rain get heavier for the past half hour, growing in volume on the car roof as we try to catch a paltry bit of rest before the long night ahead. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never wanted to do anything less than this race, and I’m pretty sure that Louisa feels the same way. Despite the fact that we’ve managed to go on a grand total of one training run together, and get completely lost in a part of the Peak District we’ve both been for probably over a hundred runs in, it isn’t the running fitness, or the navigational challenge ahead, that is really worrying me. It isn’t even the weather, forecast to feel like around minus ten with windchill, and be a pleasant mix of heavy snow and forty mile an hour winds all night. Nor is it really the challenge of staying up for the next eight-plus hours without any aid from artificial stimulants, or the headcold I woke up with that morning. If the truth be told, the main reason I don’t want to start is because Ben’s car feels unreasonably comfy and I don’t want to make myself uncomfortable.

Since that’s never really been a good excuse we somehow manage to convince ourselves to dress – buff, hat, another buff, baselayer, merino layer, other warm layer, waterproof, thermal leggings, waterproof trousers, waterproof socks that the man in the running shop in Sheffield somehow convinced me were worth £28, running shoes, headtorch, and the desperation measure of my winter climbing gloves rather than the winter running gloves I’ve discarded as not really up to the job tonight. Then to make sure our bags are packed: sleeping bag, emergency bivi bag, storm shelter, sleeping bag, roll mat (hoping not to have to use any of these items, which essentially means you’re carrying a fun amount of extra weight around the hills all night). Also: spare layer, another spare layer, spare headtorch batteries, stove, gas, spoon, water bottles, jelly babies, mini pork pies, pepperami, and a token sports gel to make it feel slightly more like I have the diet of an athlete. Compass, whistle. Some spare gloves. Is that about it? Hope so. Sainsbury’s Max Strength Cold and Flu Tablets – one last piece of the puzzle. Continue reading Marmot Dark Mountains 2019 – Race Report

Grow Your Own Food Security?

Our latest research article, Grow your own food security? Integrating science and citizen science to estimate the contribution of own growing to UK food production has been published in Plants, People, Planet this month and is open-access, which means that anybody is free to read it, not just academics!

Access it here: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ppp3.20

On the Plot #1

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Two summers. Ten cities. Two hundred allotments. A different perspective on British urban life, viewed through the frame of soils and harvests and as many free raspberries as you can manage. Nonetheless, a perspective just like any other of the city: characterised by differences of geographies, class, demographies and local culture. Individual allotment sites blur into each other at the end of the second season, a haze of sunshine and the smell of ripening plums, but some stand out. Amongst the individual experiences, common themes emerge. Here are some snapshots.

In Cardiff I met a man who had been off work with mental health problems for the past five years. Unable to function at work, he rented an allotment to help himself use up some time. Six months down the line and he swears it has transformed his life – he’s outside most days, except when he goes to his new job, which he is managing better than he ever thought possible. The very next person I met was a woman who had struggled for thirty years with alcoholism, estranging her from her friends and her granddaughter. She got her plot in February and hasn’t touched a drop since – now, her daughter brings the granddaughter to help work the ground, and the shared activity of caring for the soil has begun to mend long-broken bonds. As the elderly gentleman in Liverpool put succinctly: ‘It gets me out of the house, and it keeps me out of the pub’.

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A Maltese gentlemen who had settled in Britain after being part of the Merchant Navy is the only remaining living member of his Maltese community. He feeds a cat, a fish and a tiny frog on his plot. Perhaps this is the same cat that Barry, on the same site, also feeds – both of them seem to believe it is their own cat, but the descriptions seemed remarkably similar. Down in Southampton, shared responsibility for five feral allotment cats is taken up by a number of plotholders, one of whom has a bell attached to his shed: when he rings it, late every morning, anyone else around working their plot takes a break to share some coffee and gossip and relax on the site.

The closest thing to a castle for some is a shed, and for others it might be all they have. I heard of a Syrian refugee family living in a shed on one site, and on the other end of the spectrum was treated to a tour of one man’s shed extension, complete with white leather three-piece suite and huge mirror reflecting the debris of a party a few nights before.

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A different sort of party was in preparation up in Newcastle the week before the major late summer vegetable shows. Giant leeks like toy soldiers stood to attention in heated greenhouses and I managed to persuade a few gardeners to part with some of the trade secrets involved in winning the giant leek competitions so part of the heritage up here. Against a soundtrack of pigeon calls from the racing lofts, I learnt about how to get the best contrast between the white and the green of the leek, and what varieties were tipped to be winners.

Some greenhouses were fancier than others – the heated, competition-winning leek growth chambers stood out – but my personal favourite was seen in Bristol, where somebody had managed to acquire a supermarket car-park trolley stand to house vegetables rather than trolleys from now on. Many greenhouses and sheds are made with whatever is to hand: old doors, windows, and corrugated iron. Some contain surprising crops as well. I never thought I’d see a kiwi tree fruit in Britain until I found one in a polytunnel in Liverpool – and there were a few occurrences of what we recorded as ‘misc. herb’ in secret corners of greenhouses, although the location of where those were found will always remain a secret.

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Sometimes the humour can get old. The first time I saw a sign on a shed declaring ‘Trespassers Will Be Composted’ I chuckled – by the four hundredth time, it had somewhat lost its charm. ‘Too Many Weeds, Not Enough Thyme’ also gets an honorary mention for being particularly bad.

The generosity of gardeners, with their crops, their time, their tea and biscuits, and even sometimes their beer and homemade wine, has had a lasting impact on me and I will always be grateful to every single person who took an hour or two out of their day to talk to us about their allotments. By far the most surreal example of this occurred when the couple who lived next door to the site, and who we had liaised with for access as they were both committee members, invited myself and Roscoe round for lunch. We had a lovely picnic with them on their terrace in the garden, and shortly after found ourselves in the cellar of their house, where we sat surrounded by musical instruments as we were treated to a concert of original jazz satirical songs on piano. It was the sort of situation that became awkward to excuse ourselves from, ostensibly to go back to work, but also because there is only so much original jazz satire that one person can cope with in a day.

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There are more stories from this experience than can fit into a single post, and I will probably put another together at some point to tell some more stories of the amazing everyday of allotment gardeners. In the age of individualism, where lip service gets paid to the ‘Big Society’ by fat cats concerned only with their own pockets, allotments are a testament to the real sharing economy, where everyone and anyone can trade knowledge, tools, time and seeds, and those in need are noticed and looked after irrespective of gender, race or class, brought together by the desire to grow food and kept together by the realisation that having an allotment gives you so much more than just some slug-nibbled radishes.

To the gardeners of Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol and Southampton: thank you. Keep growing in every way.

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Ten books I read in 2014 that I liked

I’ve read some excellent things this year, and I thought I’d share my favourites in a short blog post. These aren’t in any particular order, I would recommend all of them equally.

  1. Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
  2. Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts
  3. Radical Gardening: Power, Politics and Rebellion in the Garden by George MacKay
  4. The Carbon Cycle by Kate Rawles
  5. Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution by Pam Warhurst and Joanna Dobson
  6. Queering Anarchism by various authors
  7. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
  8. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
  9. Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
  10. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity by Marc Augé

Bonus: my two favourite poetry books that I read this year were Hard Water by Jean Sprackland and The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie.

A cautious return to content creation

My stop-start-splutter-halt efforts to write more about the things I think about have failed recently. I’m increasingly wary of a culture which demands that everything must be shared; that there is no purpose in creative output if that output doesn’t create “content” which can be dispersed to interested parties looking for bite-size chunks of intellectual stimuli on a rainy day.

I recently finished A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, a wonderful exploration of different ways of getting lost, different processes of knowing, the importance of the senses, and full of eloquent ideas about the nature of wandering and the self. I turned the final page of the book only to be struck with an advert for the publishing company which informed me that if I visited their website, there was loads more “great content” at my “fingertips”. Actually, content wasn’t what I wanted when I finished this book – I wanted to reflect and process, not ingest more. Continue reading A cautious return to content creation

To Boston, to people.

I’ve never been to Boston. I don’t know anybody in Boston. But I know what it’s like to run a marathon, I know how it feels to come to the end of months of training and the feeling of finally crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. 26.2 miles of pushing through pain, pushing through feeling sick, pushing past the wall and finally running over that finish line. 26.2 miles of being surrounded by cheering crowds, by countless other runners with countless different t-shirts showing charities they’re raising money for, friends they’re running in remembrance of.  26.2 miles of people handing out water and sweets and total strangers cheering you on – people you’ll never see again giving you that high-five that keeps you going, giving you their enthusiasm when all you want to do is stop and sit down for a while to recover. Marathon day is like no other. Marathon day is when people come together, when it doesn’t matter if you agree with somebody’s politics or taste in music – what matters is that you are all there, you’re there to do good and to set a personal achievement and to support each other. And when you finally reach the finish line, surrounded by others who share your feelings of elation and joy – well, it’s a feeling unlike any other. Marathon day has a party atmosphere, a celebration atmosphere. And I simply cannot imagine what yesterday must have been like. The bombs went off at around the equivalent time that I reached the final stretch and the finish line last year in London. My heart goes out to everyone there. Sport brings people together. Sport unites. And to have that destroyed – it’s unimaginable and makes me sick to my stomach. Continue reading To Boston, to people.